Latest survey reveals ancient Maya cities' network of super highways

The settlements also include 417 unknown cities hidden by the dense forests of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. 
Kavita Verma
Mayan ruins
Mayan ruins


A new survey has revealed around one thousand ancient Maya settlements linked by the world's first network of highways. The settlements also include 417 unknown cities hidden by the dense forests of northern Guatemala and southern Mexico. 

Just last month, researchers discovered a 2000-year-old Mayan civilization in the north of Guatemala. 

The Central American country is home to multiple volcanoes, rainforests, and ancient Mayan sites. This latest discovery reveals 3000-year-old Mayan centers and their infrastructure. 

The study results were published last month in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica. All newly discovered structures were built before the emergence of the largest Mayan states, demonstrating major achievements in writing and mathematics.

The Maya writing system was used in the Maya region from around 300 BC, as shown by the murals at the site of San Bartolo in Guatemala, to the 16th century when the Spanish Conquistadors documented it in their accounts.

LiDAR technology

LiDAR is a technology that uses aircraft to shine light pulses into dense forests, enabling researchers to peel off vegetation and map the ancient structures below. According to the research team, an extensive network of stone highways used in ancient times was revealed in their latest analysis. 

The highways are approximately 110 miles (177 km) long; some are 130 feet wide and elevated up to 16 feet. 

In the Cuenca Karstica Mirador-Calakmul study, which covers the area from northern Guatemala to southern Mexico, the researchers discovered pyramids, ball courts, and advanced hydraulic structures, such as dams, reservoirs, and irrigation canals.

According to lead researcher Richard Hansen, the findings reveal "the political, social and economic complexity of events that occurred in this area." 

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The discoveries date back to the Pre-Classic Maya period, between 1000 BC and 350 BC, and suggest that the powerful city of El Mirador controlled many settlements. This period predates the classical height of the Maya civilization by over five centuries, during which time numerous major urban centers flourished in present-day Mexico and Central America.

About Maya civilization

The Maya civilization is known as one of the most advanced ancient cultures in the Americas. It developed in present-day Mexico and Central America and peaked during the "classical period" between 250 and 900 AD. During this time, numerous major urban centers flourished in the region, such as Tikal, Copán, and Palenque. Impressive architectural feats, including pyramids, palaces, plazas, and advanced technologies like irrigation systems, a complex calendar, and a writing system, characterized these cities. 

The Maya civilization had a sophisticated society with a hierarchical political system and a strong religious and intellectual tradition. They excelled in art, science, and mathematics and had an intricate system of trade and diplomacy. However, by the time the Spanish colonizers arrived in the 16th century, many of these great cities had been abandoned, and the civilization had declined, though some Maya communities remained and continue in the present day.